The Dutch Government is preparing to have to buy out farmers in order to achieve its climate goals, according to a spokesperson for Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Henk Staghouwer.

“In some cases, we’ll have to ask farmers to stop farming. The environment cannot handle so many farmers,” he said.

Policymakers in the Hague have set aside a €25bn budget which will be used to achieve an “integrated approach for climate, water and nitrogen”, said the spokesperson. While not just for farmers, this fund will be used to “buy land for nature conservation”.

The Netherlands is approximately the size of Munster and is known for its intensive, highly stocked dairy, pig and poultry farms.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal from the Hague on Friday about the farmer protests seen in the country over recent days, the spokesperson said: “We have to be honest. There will be farmers that will have to quit. Eventually we will have no choice, farmers and government, but to start over.”

As many as 30,000 farmers have joined protests in the Netherlands this week over their government’s plans.

The farmers are blocking the border between Holland and Germany and it is understood larger protests are planned for Monday, 4 July.


The spokesperson described how his Dutch government is dividing the Netherlands into map or “puzzle” with regions zoned on soil, water and biodiversity quality. Each specific region, and its farmers, will be assigned nitrates reduction targets, at anywhere from 12% to 70% by 2030. These targets will not be applied on a farm level but on a regional level.

Thousands of farmers have travelled to the Hague for protests against the nitrates reduction plans this week.

The Dutch Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Policy Christianne van der Wal-Zeggelink has “presented this goal for the future” and it is her agricultural cabinet colleague, Minister Henk Staghouwer, who will “work with farmers, supermarkets and processors” to achieve the goal, the spokesperson said.

However, Minister Staghouwer’s spokesperson said: “There will also be a perspective for every farmer who wants to continue farming. We cannot go on like we are.”

Options facing farmers

The government spokesperson said that while farmers continue to protest, “there will be more going on farming than having to stop”.

He described four options facing the Netherlands’ farming population and highlighted that it’ll be livestock farmers, and particularly large dairy farmers, that will be most affected.

Firstly, farmers in some areas deemed environmentally suitable by government will be supported to invest in farm innovation to make their enterprises more sustainable. This funding will also come from the €25bn government fund.

The Netherlands is known for intensive, high density dairy, pig and sheep farming.

The second option will be for farmers to “extensify” production with “less animals and selling product regionally”. The aim of this measure is to shorten supply chains from farm to fork and reduce environmental impact. For highly stocked dairy farmers, there will be supports to move from their intensive systems to less intensive farming practices. The Dutch government is proposing to buy some of these farmers’ debt and enable them to essentially “start over”.

Those continuing

The third option will apply to farmers who wish to continue farming as they have. When in areas which are zoned to have exceptionally poor soil and water quality or which near to a nature conservation area, these farmers will be asked to relocate to other parts of the country.

The fourth option, described by the government spokesperson as the “very last option”, will involve the complete “buyout” of the farmers involved.

“The starting point is that the buying out of farmers will be voluntary. The government has said that if we cannot use this, we have to then buy out the farmers,” the spokesperson said.

He said the objective of the buyout strategy is to support farmers who do not have a successor to exit the sector, and return their land to nature.

If an insufficient number of farmers volunteer to sell their land, laws will apply which the spokesperson compared to the government’s purchasing of farmland on planned motorway routes.

‘Debate and discussion’

Asked if Dutch farmers will ever accept such proposals, the spokesperson for the Minister for Agriculture said: “We will help them find another place. Government will be helping farmers pay off loans and move into that new kind of farming.

“There will be debate and discussion with every farmer in the region.”

He said the government’s target to reduce nitrates by 46% by 2030 is set in law and “we have no choice”.

"A court decision in May 2019 said that new permits for construction, farming and other economic activities could be issued only when the Government made sure that nature would recover.

“[The Government] have made this plan to cut nitrogen. They made a plan specially for every region. It depends on the regions the farmers are in. The objective is to have an integral, holistic approach. These targets will not change,” he said.